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City Council may have to take public stand on raise

Councilor Michael F. Flaherty.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Boston councilors may have to take a public stand on a controversial pay raise Wednesday, just six days before voters go to the polls.

The issue had nearly faded, and it appeared councilors would get their long-sought raise without having to take a final vote.

But Councilor Michael F. Flaherty Jr. said Tuesday he planned to put the proposed pay raise before his colleagues for a possible vote at Wednesday’s weekly council meeting. The move could reopen the debate on a 14 percent pay hike that is poised to become law.

“Despite the lack of consensus on the Government Operations Committee, I believe that there should be a vote on the proposal,” said Flaherty, who heads that committee. “It’s the right thing to do. The citizens of Boston deserve no less.”

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The meeting Wednesday will mark the final deadline for councilors to act on a proposed raise, which would increase their annual salary to $99,500. If the council does not vote, the raise will automatically become law on Election Day because of a rarely used provision of the city charter.

Flaherty’s plan to put the measure before his colleagues would restore transparency to the process, according to Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

“That’s the right course of action to take,” said Tyler, whose organization is a fiscal watchdog funded by business and nonprofits. “I applaud a public vote by the City Council on their salary.”

The salary of councilors has stood at $87,500 since 2006, even as other city workers received pay increases.

Putting the proposed raise on the council floor for debate could open the door to a number of possibilities.

There could be a simple vote on the raise, which was proposed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh as a compromise during a yearlong debate. Councilors could also try to change the amount. Council President Bill Linehan has an ordinance pending that would increase pay to $105,000. Other amendments have also been proposed. Councilors Matt O’Malley and Ayanna Pressley want to tie councilors’ pay to fluctuations in Boston’s median income.

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Under their proposal, councilors would no longer vote on their own raises. Instead, their salaries would go up — and potentially down — at the same rate as Boston’s median income. A similar mechanism is in place at the State House, where lawmakers no longer vote on their pay.

“It’s fairer. If we are doing better and the city is doing better financially, the median income for all should grow,” O’Malley said Tuesday. “It also removes the uncomfortable and awkward and, some would say, inappropriate position of the council to have to set their own pay raise.”

The city’s law department reviewed that proposal and concluded there were “serious questions” about whether it would conflict with existing law, according to the Walsh administration’s spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri. The Law Department would not advise Walsh to sign O’Malley and Pressley’s proposal without more analysis and public input, and there is not time to do that before Tuesday’s election, Oggeri said.

The city’s legal department has said state ethics law requires action on a raise before the election so that a pay increase can take effect at the start of a new term in January.

Council members voted 9 to 4 last year to give themselves a $20,000 raise, to $107,500, but the measure was vetoed by Walsh. The mayor countered with his lower proposal. The matter was sent to the Government Operations Committee on Sept. 2. The date is key. The city charter stipulates that if the council does not act on a mayoral proposal within 60 days, it automatically becomes law. That clock expires at 12:01 a.m. Election Day.

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The 60-day clock also puts the onus on Flaherty, chairman of the council’s Government Operations Committee. Under council rules, Flaherty has absolute control of measures referred to his committee for 60 days. No one can bring the proposed pay raise to the floor without Flaherty’s consent.

Eileen P. McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, urged councilors to get input directly from voters, perhaps through a referendum. That could create a mechanism to eliminate the need for councilors to vote on their own pay.

“It requires a lot of up-front input,” McAnneny said. “But you only have do it once.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.